A Discussion of Current Security Issues in Japan: Security Guidelines, the Constitution, Legislative Reviews, and the Missile Threat

Masahiro Akiyama

Former Vice Minister, Japanese Defense Agency

March 15, 2000

Mr. Akiyama introduced his talk by giving a background of recent themes in Japanese security. He then targeted four main issues of current interest: the security guidelines, theater missile defense (TMD), the legislative review of Japanese defense laws, and constitutional revision.


Japan has seen numerous developments in defense policy in its recent past. Following the 1991 Persian Gulf crisis, when Japanese security policy was a hotly debated topic, the Japanese Diet passed the Peacekeeping Operations (PKO) Law in 1992. For the first time since World War II, this legislation allowed for Japanese Self Defense Force (SDF) personnel to be dispatched overseas under certain conditions. This has allowed Japan to participate in UN peacekeeping operations in Cambodia and other areas. Naval SDF vessels have responded to incursions of suspicious ships into Japanese waters. The SDF have also assisted in times of domestic emergencies, such after the Kobe earthquake, and following the Aum Shinrikyo terrorist attack against the Tokyo subway. The Japanese Defense Agency (JDA) has developed military exchanges with the Republic of Korea, Russia, and China; Japan has also hosted multilateral security dialogues with these neighbors. A troubling regional development was North Korea's launch of a missile over Japanese airspace in 1998.

Japan has also seen many developments in its domestic politics during the 1990s. Dominant since the end of World War II, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) was defeated in 1993 and a coalition government took over. Mr. Akiyama commented that after Socialist party member Murayama became Prime Minister in 1994, security matters (formerly taboo to the opposition) could be discussed more frankly. This extended to liberal newspapers as well. In sharp contrast to the prior era (when it was critical of any military matters), the left-wing newspaper Asahi Shinbun contains numerous articles on security issues: many of them advocating expansion of Japanese security roles.


Japan's approval of the Security Guidelines represents a re-affirmation of the U.S.-Japan alliance to carry into the next century. Mr. Akiyama says the updated guidelines are the result of North Korean nuclear crisis in 1993, when policy makers in the United States and Japan realized if a war broke out on the peninsula, Japan had no legal framework for participating. This realization was troubling given that policy makers believed that Japan's non-participation would be disastrous to the alliance, because of the benefits that Japan receives from a stable Korean peninsula. Japanese leaders advocated establishing a framework for participation, given that even under Japan's constitution (which severely constrains Japan's use of force), there possibly were ways for Japan to assist the United States in such a scenario. Therefore Japanese lawmakers introduced relevant laws, which were passed in the Diet last year. These laws enable Japan to support U.S. forces in the case of contingencies in "areas surrounding Japan" (given that the scenario has important implications for Japanese security). Under Japan's constitution today, the kind of support Japan can provide is limited to non-lethal support. This includes base usage, transportation, medical services, and maintenance in rear-areas.

Politically, the road to ratification of the Security Guidelines has been difficult. The Japanese public maintains strong approval for Japan's alliance with the United States. But Diet members needed to make provisions for local governments, in order to gain their approval. The Komeito party, one of Japan's strongest, has been and continues to be reluctant to get involved in security affairs. Similarly, the LDP is not sufficiently unified on security issues to be able to promote a unified plan. The Guidelines became controversial internationally with China's reaction: Beijing fears that a Taiwan crisis could be one in which Japan might become involved and warned against Japanese participation in any such crisis. Mr. Akiyama commented that "areas surrounding Japan" is defined in terms of interest rather than geography; Japan will take part in operations if core Japanese security interests are at stake.


Japan has no laws governing conduct of the military in times of contingencies: that is, if a military crisis were to occur, how the military would conduct operations (for example, small but crucial details such as traffic management). The JDA, supported by U.S. Forces Japan, maintains that such codes should be agreed upon in peacetime, before a crisis occurs, so that a prior legal framework can be relied upon, and confusion is minimized. The JDA wants to get the approval of local organizations and governments for contingency planning; they have proposed various measures for over 20 years, but have been unable to see such plans realized. In the current political environment, the Komeito party was unwilling to begin such discussions before the upcoming elections. The Liberal Party (led by Ozawa) strongly supports the JDA plans, including revision of the Administration Reform Act, which changes the JDA (currently an agency) into a Ministry of Defense.


Mr. Akiyama commented that people will think it was only North Korea's launching of a missile over Japan that led to Japan's acceptance of cooperating with the United States in a TMD program. He says that this did help, but that regardless, there is a long history of U.S.-Japanese planning with regards to this program, and that the JDA has been interested for some time. Mr. Akiyama prefers the wording 'ballistic missile defense' (BMD), as opposed to TMD, implying that it is less inflammatory to neighbors (particularly the Chinese, with whom policies should be carefully discussed, cautions Mr. Akiyama). BMD, he says, is a defense-oriented system compatible with Japan's defense-oriented policies and constitution.


A special law was passed in the Diet last year, opening the door for discussion of constitutional reform, which commenced this year. At this stage, says Mr. Akiyama, Diet members are tackling the controversial issue of whether the United States forced the constitution on Japan. People generally agree that Japan was under serious U.S. pressure to accept this constitution.

Constitutional reform is a controversial issue in Japan. Liberals oppose reform because they value the constitution's Article 9 (which forbids Japan to maintain military forces-interpreted as offensive military forces). Mr. Akiyama says there have been significant changes in Japanese society since the Constitution was introduced years ago, so reform is needed. Although people most often focus on the military issues when speaking of constitutional reform, Mr. Akiyama reports that a variety of other issues are on the table. These include the relationship between the Japanese government and private educational institutes, and public interest versus personal rights (the latter of which has been maligned by comparison in Japanese law).

The future of Article 9, however, is one of the most important and controversial issues in constitutional revision debates. Mr. Akiyama comments that most Japanese agree that the constitution forbids offensive potential but allows the right of self-defense. This interpretation has led to several types of weapons systems being considered as unconstitutional, such as aircraft carriers, long-range bombers, and ICBMs. Also unconstitutional is the dispatch of armed forces to other territories for the purpose of using force. Collective self-defense is also seen as prohibited. Finally, over the years Japan has adopted three "non-nuclear" principles.

Mr. Akiyama advocates constitutional reform, specifically of Article 9, as it will clarify Japanese security policy. He cites three pillars of Japanese security: an exclusively defensive orientation, maintenance of the U.S.-Japan alliance, and the creation of a more stable security environment. Beyond this, Mr. Akiyama acknowledges that those who criticize Japanese security policy as ambiguous are largely correct. One example is the issue of East Timor.

Australia and other Asian countries volunteered forces for the UN-led effort in East Timor. However, Japan cannot contribute personnel even to such a UN security force. It is unable to do so because of constitutional restraints. In 1990, the first Peacekeeping Operations law was proposed, but failed in the Diet. Japan was unable to dispatch forces to the Gulf War. In 1992, the government tried again to pass the PKO law: this led to political debates on weapons use, and on the constitutionality of dispatching these forces. The PKO law was passed, but accompanied by "Five Principles" required to be fulfilled before Japanese SDF personnel can be sent overseas. These are:

I. A cease-fire agreement must first be signed by combatants;
II. Combatants must consent to the participation of the peacekeeping forces;
III. peacekeeping activities must be impartial;
IV. Japan may withdraw its forces if these conditions aren't satisfied;
V. Weapons use by SDF is limited to the minimum necessary for self-defense.

According to these five principles, Japan was legally unable to commit forces to East Timor given that there was no cease-fire between combatants. Mr. Akiyama comments that Article 9 should be reviewed and brought up to date with changes in Japanese society and security, allowing Japan to participate in such UN peacekeeping activities.


(Q) If Taiwan is geographically outside the guidelines, is it "situationally" within the guidelines?
(A) This has become politically very controversial and is difficult to answer. 'Situtational' is defined as having "important security implications" for Japan.

(Q) What does the JDA think of the piracy problem in East Asia?
(A) Piracy is more of a criminal act rather than defense; it isn't really related to security of Japan.

(Q) Regarding constitutional revision: what are the factors at work? Are they generational: that is, generational changes in how the alliance is viewed. You should note that if there's a contingency, and Japan is doing rear-area support but only Americans are dying, this won't fly well with the U.S. public either. What kind of changes would you want to see in the constitution?
(A) The public seems to support the current constitution but Japan needs to review this to meet social changes. Young people don't seem to have any particular anti-militarist feeling.

(Q) Last week the U.S. Department of Defense officially but anonymously announced that Japan was interested in limited offensive capabilities: air to ground missiles, bombs, and that DoD is inclined to grant this.
(A) I don't know about this rumor but it sounds very unlikely to me. I would like to see confirmation of this.

(Q) U.S. Department of State officials are unhappy with the Japanese commitment to the alliance and the level of host nation support (HNS). There has been talk that Japan's poor economic performance leads them to downgrade Japan as a diplomatic priority
(A) I haven't heard of this. I am optimistic about how negotiations regarding HNS will pan out. It is certainly difficult for Japan to increase HNS to the United States while decreasing the JDA budget. I imagine that there won't be dramatic changes in HNS.

(Q) Over the past 50 years we've seen many proposed changes to Japanese defense policy that have increased Japan's defense roles. Sometimes there was public opposition to a proposed policy change, which stopped it from happening. Sometimes there was public opposition but the policy was changed anyway. And sometimes the government just quietly went ahead and changed the policy, without much reaction at all. Which kind of situation do you think Japan is in with the current constitutional revision?
(A) I believe that because of Japan's societal changes over the past decades, the constitution and the government's policies will change. The only question is how quickly they will do so.

(Q) How do you see Japanese security relations with South Korea? Tokyo and Seoul have many common interests: they both host U.S. forces, and share regional security concerns such as the safe passage of trade in the sea lanes. On the other hand there are many sources of friction: TMD, Japanese plutonium stocks, historical memory, and the Tokdo/Takeshima island dispute.
(A) Yes, there are many difficult issues between the two countries. However there are also many signs of cooperation. There have been dramatic changes in ROK policy toward Japan: the two countries' relations have developed positively with Kim Dae Jung's administration. TMD and nuclear issues might become controversial after Korean unification but probably not before that. Regarding the Takeshima Island dispute, this is very difficult and I don't know how we will go about solving this. As for historical memories of Japanese aggression towards Korea, I think it will take another generation of time before this will improve.

(Q) Suppose that the United States, rather than wait for Japan to change its constitution, unilaterally decides to pull its forces out of Japan and terminate the alliance. How will that affect the constitutional debate?
(A) In my view, Article 9 wording must be changed if possible to meet even the present situation of SDF's existence and roles. If U.S. forces withdraw from Japan, this will of course be a very different situation. Regardless of whether they're there, I think the issue is related to the future of Japanese security. One idea is a collective security scheme: but this is a big problem given China and the nature of its regime.

Rapporteur: Jennifer Lind

back to seminar schedule, Spring 2000